News to Note, September 3, 2011

A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint

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Energizer beetle, Jurassic mother, Neanderthal craftsmen, twisted whale tale, species census

1. Robotic Insects Mimic God’s Own Design

Energizer bug’s backpack is a battery of God’s own design.

2. Jurassic Rat Now Considered Oldest Mammalian Ancestor

Once upon a time, in a Jurassic park long, long ago, grandmother rat climbed a tree.

3. Neaderthals Prove Technical Capabilities in Jersey Caves

Neanderthal technical prowess belies brutish reputation.

4. Ancient Whales and How Their Skulls Affected Directional Hearing

The whale evolutionary tale takes a new twist.

5. Number of Estimated Species Reaches 8.7 Million

Classification scheme is key to species count.

And Don’t Miss . . .

  • The California Science Center will pay $110,000 to the American Freedom Alliance to settle a lawsuit asserting the CSC was guilty of breach of contract and violation of the right of free speech. The CSC, a California state agency, agreed to rent its IMAX theater to the AFA for the showing of two movies, one pro-evolution and another supporting Intelligent Design. The lawsuit alleged that the CEO of the science center cancelled the contract under pressure from “colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Southern California, the Huntington Library and elsewhere.” According to the settlement, the CSC will now invite the AFA to show the film, Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record. AFA’s lawyer asserts that those behind the cancellation “are part of a subtle but effective movement to marginalize a scientific theory that challenges their worldview,” adding, “Any time public officials stand in the way of legitimate debate, they reveal their hostility toward intellectual freedom, which the Constitution is designed to safeguard.” The Intelligent Design movement points out the impossibilities inherent in the evolutionary worldview and as such has helped educate people about some aspects of the issues. However, by leaving the identity of the “designer” anonymous, it loses much of its power to change lives by failing to answer the questions that can only be answered by the Word of the Creator—questions about sin and suffering and salvation.
  • The thylacine—also called the Tasmanian tiger—has been posthumously vindicated by a study from the University of New South Wales. The dog-like marsupial carnivore with stripes on its back was hunted to extinction by bounty seekers in Tasmania due to its reputation as a sheep-killer. To see if the reputation was deserved, researchers “scanned the skull and then used the same software on it that you would use in engineering, to investigate the stresses on man-made structures, such as bridges and aircraft wings,” explained Dr. Stephen Wroe. Comparing thylacine jaws to those of living animals with known diets, they determined that thylacine’s jaws were much too weak to bring down adult sheep, although it would have been able to prey upon poultry and smaller mammals. It will be interesting to see if this technique can be applied to fossilized skulls. If so, popular conceptions about other extinct creatures’ dietary propensities could be challenged.
  • A second planet has been added to the roster of exoplanets thought to be within habitable zones. HD85512b was found 36 light-years away using planet searcher program in a Chilean observatory. The instrument scans for “wobbles in a star's light, which can indicate the gravitational tugs of orbiting worlds.” About 3.6 times the mass of earth, HD85512b orbits its star in the so-called “habitable zone”—a distance thought to make the existence of liquid water possible. Models of planet formation predict planets with HD85512b’s mass could have an atmosphere similar to ours. However, present-day technology cannot determine whether or not the planet has an atmosphere. Those who believe that life can evolve from non-living chemicals wherever water is found look to planets like this for potential homes of alien life. Commenting on the possibility, astronomer Manfred Cuntz said that the 5.6 billion year age of HD85512b’s solar system “gives life a chance to originate and develop.” Evolutionary ideas gauge our solar system to be only 4.6 billion years old. The nebular hypothesis on which these ages and models of planet formation are based has a number of scientific inconsistencies but remains the prevailing theory among secular astronomers. Could there be aliens? While the Bible doesn’t say “no,” we should keep in mind that the urgent search for alien life is spurred on by an evolutionary worldview.
  • “Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties,” according to Edinburgh’s Dr. Jim Wilson, co-author of a recent study of population genetics in Europe. He and Oxford colleagues have analyzed the Y-chromosome of more than 4,500 men from Europe and western Asia. They tracked a genetic marker called R-M269. Previous studies found a trend supporting the contention that farmers from Turkey supplanted the hunting populations of Europe. This team found no such trend, derailing established ideas about the geography and origins of European populations. Dr. Cristian Capelli adds, “At the moment it's not possible to claim anything about the age of this lineage.” This series of studies should remind us that even DNA studies, as foolproof as they sound, are only as good as the technology and assumptions on which they are based. The genomes themselves don’t always follow the rules we expect. Another study this year, for instance, showed that males don’t pass on traits as consistently as we might have predicted. Even population studies, while instructive, don’t give all the answers. As a general rule, just as in this instance, “conclusions about the timing of [this population group’s] origin and dispersal should be viewed with a large degree of caution.”1
  • A statistical analysis by researchers at Oregon State University has determined that permanent evolutionary changes require at least a million years to become set in stone. Referring to observable changes within kinds of organisms, author Josef Uyeda says, “Rapid evolution is clearly a reality over fairly short time periods, sometimes just a few generations.” But he adds, “Those rapid changes do not always persist and may be confined to small populations. For reasons that are not completely clear, the data show the long-term dynamics of evolution to be quite slow. . . It's a paradox as to why evolution should be so slow.” We would point out that the discrepancy exists because genetic variation within a kind is not the same thing as the acquisition of new information to become a different kind. Genetic variation within created kinds has produced the biodiversity we see in today’s world from the original organisms God created 6,000 years ago. But He did not design a way for organisms to obtain the information to evolve into new kinds.

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